Military Aligned Service Award

When I joined the United States Naval Reserve in June of 1972 I could never have imagined how that would change my life. I was a draftee who was looking for a better option than going in the Army and possibly going to Vietnam. I had just finished my first year of college and being drafted was at once frightening and also a disruption to my plans. I remember well the day of my enlistment. My grandmother accompanied me to the Naval Reserve Center in Jamestown, New York. My decision to become a Navy Hospital Corpsman could well have sent me to Vietnam but that was not my fate. Instead I served at a dispensary at Naval Air Station Albany GA and later at the Naval Submarine Medical Center New London which was actually in Groton CT.

I did well on active duty and in less than two years time I became a Petty Officer 3rd Class after having started out as an E-1. I learned a lot about labor and delivery and neonatal care in the newborn nursery. In New London I worked in the surgery clinic and assisted with minor surgery. Leaving active duty in early 1975 I returned to civilian life and eventually married and later finished college. I was never active in the American Legion and was very low key about my involvement with the military. Then a couple of years ago i got the chance to go to Rome and Assisi as part of the Franciscan Pilgrimages Program for veterans. On the pilgrimage I met other veterans. Some older, some younger but we all had one thing in common, we had served our country in time of war. After returning from the first pilgrimage I was determined to help other veterans have this pilgrimage experience. I contacted Francisco Morales who is the Director of Veterans Services at St. Bonaventure University and expressed my willingness to help. Frank who is a retired US Army combat veteran accepted my offer and gave me some swag to take home.

St. Bonaventure University‚Äôs Office of Veterans Services has teamed up with the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program on the Food4Vets program. I’ve been a volunteer in that program. The past couple of weeks Frank has invited me to have a free meal and today I couldn’t say no. I joined another veteran volunteer at one of the local restaurants involved with the program. We each received a fish fry with the trimmings. Shortly after we put our food in the car Frank arrived to present each of us with a “Military Aligned Service Award” from St. Bonaventure University. I was very moved by the experience. Frank had personally designed the medallions that include an image of St. Francis astride a horse as he returns from battle. In the background of the medallion you can see the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi as it appears and then the back of a contemporary soldier.

May the Lord Give You Peace

This has been a far from normal Easter but it’s also been a day when families are united by technology across hundreds and thousands of miles. We all live in fear and many are looking for relief from that fear. It’s a bit like being in a war zone. Knowing that death and suffering are just around the corner and taking precaution to keep that at bay. Physical distancing has led to isolation for some and exacerbated already lonely lives. I have tried to do something each day to shorten that distance for those around me. For some it’s been a e-card from Gratefulness.org for others it has been a phone call or FaceTime. Today we had an Easter Zoom with our children and grandchildren. It’s also been a time of prayer. Rote prayers for some or just talking to the higher power for others.

Last night I was able to find an Easter Vigil Service on YouTube. While it wasn’t the same as the service I normally attend it was reassuring to hear the familiar readings and hymns. Tonight while looking at social media I found a healing message from Fr Conrad Targonski, OFM who led the two veterans pilgrimages to Rome and Assisi that I have been a part of the last two years. It was his Easter greeting from Viterbo University where he is the chaplain. Fr. Conrad is a thirty year veteran US Navy Chaplain who’s been in the thick of combat in Fallujah. His voice was a calming presence tonight.